Marketers spend huge sums on technology to make marketing more engaging and accountable—but are they getting value for their money?

Most marketers sense that technology is not quite the panacea it's promised to be. But what if the answer lies not in some clever new tool, but in a completely revamped approach to marketing itself?

That is a question many in the B2B marketing community are asking themselves—and finding their answer in account-based marketing (ABM).

ABM is a way of influencing and building relationships with highly targeted organizations and individuals, treating them as "markets of one" rather than the unwilling recipients of untargeted, untailored "broadcast" marketing.

Some 84% of marketers using ABM say it delivers higher ROI than any other marketing approach, yet only half of organizations had an ABM strategy in place in 2016.

If you're considering ABM, here is our five-stage process for unlocking its benefits.

1. Account Selection

ABM is a process, not a set of technologies. And the first stage in that process is account selection, which entails speaking with existing clients to assess how their current and future needs meet your business proposition, and then determining each account's growth potential.

Typically, 80% of revenue c omes from the top 20th percentile of accounts, so your strategy should focus on long-term value—in terms of both revenue and relationships.

Look for cross-sell opportunities in existing accounts, and think about how you can sell to the account with a single strategic voice. But ABM isn't just for existing accounts; it can be an ideal way to approach new businesses.

2. Research and Insight

Once you've selected your priority accounts, it's time to conduct the research so you can build a set of compelling messages that are tailored to each target. The insights from your research will inform your ABM strategy and implementation.

This phase can be a long slog, but your efforts will be highly rewarded. It covers everything from identifying specific people you need to engage within a target organization, to determining a business's current and future pain points; from analyzing the market to anticipating relevant trends.

A typical research project includes...

  • Interviewing your account directors to review existing relationships and identify priority accounts
  • Conducting primary research to fill knowledge gaps about the status and history of these relationships
  • Gathering social intelligence to understand the opinions, preferences, and concerns of your intended audience

Market intelligence is another key area: It enables marketers to understand how the account fits into the broader scope of the industry and what pressures each organization faces in the future. That insight is critical to shaping your messaging and for presenting solutions to real problems rather than offering generic marketing messages.

3. Messaging and Propositions

You've conducted the legwork; now it's time to address what you're going to say.

Messages are infinitely more powerful if they address real customer concerns and needs; they should also demonstrate empathy and a thorough knowledge of the customer.

If you take the time to craft powerful propositions that work on an emotional level, you will be much more likely to garner a positive response. This skill can be the most difficult for marketers to learn, brought up as they are with the idea of universal, inviolable brand messaging.

Yet, if you can put yourself in your customers' shoes—and stay there—you will be able to become part of the conversation much earlier in the sales cycle, you will reposition your brand in the mind of the customer, and you will effectively reach the full range of people involved in making buying decisions.

4. Content and Communications

If there's one thing the world needs less of, it's content. We're bombarded with marketing messages from the moment we turn on our devices. Marketers may talk about "cutting through the noise," but, more often than not, they're merely adding to it.

Doing your research and crafting your messaging will help you create great stories, but it's vital that your brand tell a consistent and compelling story across every medium, from infographics to social posts to longer-form content.

The key to compelling content is to match the medium to the intended recipient. Your research phase should give you a good idea of which format will best resonate with each person—whether the time-poor decision-maker who wants to know the benefits of your proposition, or the more technically minded expert who wants to delve deep into the details.

And don't forget offline communications. ABM is all about creating relationships, so it's important to consider how you communicate a consistent story through account team interactions, in brochures, and at events and conferences.

5. Execution and Engagement

Everything you've done so far leads up this point: executing your carefully crafted strategy. Engaging with your audience can take many forms, depending on whom you want to influence and how.

There are no specific rules for engagement: It's better that you experiment than be beholden to a strict plan. But don't through reason out the window. For example, you may consider conducting a workshop with your key audience. Make sure it explores real issues affecting that business rather than being a thinly disguised sales presentation.

Bonus Tip

The best advice we can give is to avoid thinking of engagement as the end goal of your ABM initiative. Instead, see it as part of the cycle of constant feedback and communication with your audience and an opportunity to build rapport and trust. That, more than anything else, should be your overarching goal for ABM.

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image of Judy Wilks

Judy Wilks is client director at MomentumABM, an agency specializing in account-based marketing (ABM).

LinkedIn: Judy Wilks

Twitter: @obscurejudy